Writing

My Struggle with Social and Solitary Time

Booklife by Jeff VanderMeer
Booklife

Recently, I made a shift in how I view my time. Like all writers, I crave long blocks of uninterrupted time. Whether I acquired that was always on me. Was I answering email instead of writing my novel? Was I running errands when I should be home revising a short essay? Was I on Twitter on a night I’d devoted to producing a new blog post? In other words, was I being naughty? Was I being weak? Was I not being disciplined at my craft? What this approach has mostly done is made feel guilty about the booklife I should be doing versus what I am actually doing, while giving rise to a vague feeling of being disorganized and out of control. It’s depressing.

Jeff VanderMeer’s Been There

Then I read horror writer Jeff VanderMeer’s book, Booklife. He doesn’t feel guilty about how he uses any of his time. He knows online and offline time are both necessary. So he developed a way to resolve those two worlds. The world of writing in a solitary, uninterrupted state and the world of the social, interrupted state. He literally schedules all aspects of his time, starting in the morning with exercise, his writing hours, online time, and real life leisure or non-leisure time. He sketches it out in half-hour blocks and sticks to it 75%-85% of the time. Also, I imagine that target helps alleviate his guilt when he doesn’t follow the schedule. Not expecting to stick rigidly to it all the time lowers the pressure to succeed. It’s nicely realistic.

I learned a lot from this approach. First, I don’t beat myself up about the time it takes to live in a social, interrupted state. 1) I have a day job, 2) I have kids, 3) I have an online presence. Not to mention I have a husband, pets, chores, extended family, other interests, etc. All of these will pull me away from solitary, uninterrupted time into the disrupted and social. It’s the reality of life. Therefore, I now look at that solitary time as a gift, and that’s been a profound shift.

Don’t Take Time for Granted

Because time is a gift, it is precious. Therefore, I don’t take the time for granted anymore. I don’t beat myself up for being social or running errands. I simply plan. On what days and at what times are my kids at school or camp or watching a movie? How long do I have? What can I do in one, two, five hours? Can I get into creative silent mode enough to produce something? This is the approach I take now. I’m more organized about when I creatively write and when I do online work: write during the day when the kids are gone, do online work and real life tasks when the kids are home. I’ve resumed an old routine of taking one night a week away from the kids to write at a coffee house. On the weekends, I take advantage of bonus time my husband offers by taking the kids to the park.

Just as VanderMeer says in Booklife, I don’t always stick to the plan. But my emotional outlook improved. I now focus solely on whichever state I’m in, which spawns feelings of satisfaction and control. I get more done either way. It’s the Booklife approach, and I’m thankful to have found it.

Tell me how you view your uninterrupted and interrupted states of time. Are you barely keeping your head above water as I was or do you feel like you have a plan?


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Karen Hugg is a writer and gardener living in the Seattle area. She is a certified ornamental horticulturalist and Master Pruner. When not digging in the dirt, she writes. She's been published in various journals, anthologies, websites, and more. Her life is happily hectic but she's lucky to have a patient husband and sweet children. Her pets aren't bad either. To learn more, explore http://www.karenhugg.com.

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